With so many hours spent on the job, few things are more uncomfortable than facing harassment in the workplace. If your employer singles you out for discriminatory treatment, you can file a complaint for harassment with federal, state or local agencies. But you only have a certain amount of time to file your claim, and that period is called the statute of limitations.
Workplace Harassment and Discrimination
Federal laws prohibit discriminating against employees due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. When discrimination on the job is ongoing, it is called workplace harassment. States prohibit these types of discrimination, but often go further. For example, Maine, New Mexico and California also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When an employer treats an employee in one of these protected classes differently and cannot show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for doing so, the employer engages in unlawful disparate treatment.
Read More: What Is Considered Workplace Harassment?
Exhausting Your Administrative Remedies
In most instances of discrimination in the workplace, you must file a claim with a government agency before you can file a lawsuit. This is called “exhausting your administrative remedies,” and if you do not file with the proper administrative agency first, the trial court judge will throw out your case. If your state or local government enforces a particular type of discrimination, that is where you file your claim. For example, you file a racial discrimination complaint with the Division of Human Rights in New York; the Workforce Commission in Texas; and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in California. If no state or local agency enforces discrimination where you live, then you file what is known as a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Your right to file a lawsuit does not start until after you go through this administrative claim process.
First Statute of Limitations for Filing Your Claim
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a claim, charge or lawsuit. If you do not file within that time, you lose your right to do so. Statutes of limitations vary depending on whether you are filing your grievance with a government agency or filing a lawsuit in court. The time period also changes depending upon the type of discrimination action you are filing. Two statute of limitations periods pertain to filing a workplace harassment claim. The first is the amount of time you have to file a claim with the proper government agency. In most cases, you have 180 days to file from the act of discrimination, unless you are a federal employee, and then you only have 45 days to complain.
Second Statute of Limitations for Filing Your Lawsuit
The second statute of limitations period is the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit with the trial court once the administrative agency finishes its investigative process and makes a ruling. If the agency that investigates your claim of harassment denies it, it will issue a Right to Sue Notice and you'll have 90 days to file a lawsuit in court.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Filing a Charge of Discrimination
- American Civil Liberties Union: Non-Discrimination Laws: State by State Information - Map
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Statute of Limitations
- The Free Dictionary: Exhaustion of Remedies
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Filing a Charge
- New York State Division of Human Rights: How to File a Complaint
- Texas Workforce Commission: How to Submit an Employment Discrimination Complaint
- California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: Complaint Process
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Time Limits for Filing a Charge
An attorney for more than 20 years, Cara O'Neill currently practices in the areas of civil litigation, family law and bankruptcy. She also served as an Administrative Law Judge and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of employment law, business law and criminal law for a well-known university. Attending the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, she graduated a National member of the Order of the Barristers - an honor society recognizing excellence in courtroom advocacy. She is currently licensed in the state of California.